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[At Home with Her Excellency, Poland] Home’s a garden for Poland’s emissaries

Dec 12,2016
Polish Ambassador Krzysztof Majka and his wife Zofia get into the Christmas spirit earlier this month at their residence in Seongbuk District, central Seoul. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Nothing excites Zofia Majka (pronounced “Ma-yi-ka”) more than experimentation. The chemical engineering graduate can’t help her curiosity, and gardening became a natural hobby. When she returns home after a long day, the first thing she does is to check whether her “kids” are okay - the nearly 60 plants.

“I started growing them from the first week we arrived in Korea in 2011,” said Majka, wife of the ambassador of Poland. “A lot of them started out without a single flower,” she continues. “Look at them now!”

The Polish couple has perhaps the most verdant home out of all foreign diplomatic missions in Seoul, a result of Majka’s six years of warm affection. Soon, they’ll move back to Poland. The ambassador’s term is about to end. The plants have offered them a sense of how fast - yet steadily - time has flown by.

“We won’t take any of them when we move into our new home in Warsaw,” said Majka. “We’ll start all over again.”



From left: A collection of Polish pottery; “Rusting of My Thoughts” (2015), an acrylic painting by Polish artist Danuta Nawrocka
Q. Please describe your residence.

A. Our residence is located on a hill in Seongbuk-dong in Seongbuk District, central Seoul, where foreign ambassadors’ houses are concentrated in. When looking out from our window, we see our Polish flag as well as the flags of our neighbors: Finland, Algeria and Zambia. We’re able to admire the beautiful views of sunset and night lights from our residence.

There are many interesting places nearby, such as the Korea Furniture Museum and the newly opened Korean Stone Art Museum. We’ve been living here for almost six years.

The first floor is used for official diplomatic purposes. The second floor is for our private use. In the basement, which we’ve designed as a gallery, there’s a ping-pong table we play with during our free time. We’re a competitive couple and sometimes get emotional over the play (laughs). The basement area is also used for hosting cultural events like showing Polish films or introducing various other aspects of Poland.



What sorts of receptions do you host at the residence?

Earlier this year, we had the chance to host our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and Heritage Piotr Gilinski as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski. We also held a welcoming reception for newly-arrived ambassadors from the EU. Receptions at our residence can host up to 80 guests, but the number often doesn’t exceed 12. During summer, we sometimes hold standing buffet receptions in the garden.

I enjoy cooking and experimenting with food, so when I have the chance, I try to prepare the foods that are catered during the special events. I mainly cook zrazy (meat roulade), golabki (cabbage roll), and potatoes with meat and vegetables.

I’ve come to notice that Polish pierogi [dumplings filled with potato, sauerkraut, ground meet, cheese, etc.] is a lot like Korean mandu [dumplings filled with meat and vegetables]. I plan to try cooking some Korean foods featured in a culinary book I received as a gift from Madam Kim Yoon-ok, wife of former President Lee Myung-bak. She is the author.



What are your favorite objects?

We admire our three oil paintings drawn by acclaimed Polish artist Zbigniew Murzyn, which adorn our walls in the living room. It’s actually Korea that inspired these work. He was invited to Korea twice on the occasion of the World Cultural Art Symposium, an annual event organized by the Mosan Art Museum and Gaehwa Art Park in Boryeong, South Chungcheong, chaired by Mr. Lim Hang-youl and directed by Ms. Im Ho-young.

Each year, the museum invites a number of artists from around the world and provides a platform on which they can share their artistic ideas. During his stay here, Mr. Murzyn was able to visit Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, Haedong Yonggung Temple in Busan, and Bulguk Temple in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, later materializing those experiences into paintings, which now hang at our residence.

The suburban Korea that I know is very different from the capital: It’s full of lakes, rivers and hills. My image of Korea is just as green as that shown in Mr. Murzyn’s work.

Danuta Nawrocka is another Polish artist that was invited to the World Cultural Art Symposium. Her acrylic painting “Rusting of My Thoughts” (2015) hangs in our dining room. Her piece is quite different from Mr. Murzyn’s in the sense that it stimulates imagination and is open to the viewer’s interpretation. She visually expressed the concept of thoughts.



From left: An oil painting of Bulguk Temple in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, is one of three art pieces in the residence drawn by Polish artist Zbigniew Murzyn; A pair of dolls in traditional Polish attire.
What other objects represent Polish culture?

In our living room, we’ve displayed a collection of Polish pottery designed by Magdalena Gazur. It’s kind of a localized version because they’re painted with various bright colors, whereas traditional Polish pottery chiefly sticks to the colors blue, white and green. Boleslawiec, a famous Polish pottery factory, lies near the border with Germany.

In our dining room, we have a small exhibition of crystal glassware produced by the Polish company Lucyna in an old factory also near the border between Germany and Poland. Crystal glassware is a large industry in Poland, exported to many countries in the EU.



How do you spend time at home?

When I arrive home, the first thing I do is check on my plants. I will regret leaving them behind when my husband and I leave Korea soon, but I hope they’ll continue to grow. I also enjoy playing bridge. In my free time, I also make jewelry. I’m deeply impressed by the beauty of natural stones, so use them often to make different kinds of ornaments like necklaces. When I’m focused, I stay up until late at night; my husband finds it hard to understand.

Every morning, we start our day with a hatha yoga session we learned back in India. In the evenings, we play table tennis. I’m an active member of the Ambassadors Spouses’ Association in Seoul and the Garden Club, while my husband sings in the Diplomats’ Choir.



How would you define a Polish house?

Among many different types of houses in Poland, perhaps one of the most beautiful are the log houses in the highlands. Nowadays, newly built houses in Poland are installing floor heating systems, and we intend to do the same when we move back to our country. We’d also like to bring from Korea the sliding doors made out of hanji (traditional Korean paper) as well as pagoda-shaped lamps.



Speaking of your new house back home, how have you come along with interior design?

I lived in India for nearly 11 years and my husband for 15 years, including seven that he served as ambassador, so we have a lot of unique souvenirs from this country like furniture, sculptures and batik (dyed cloth). The first floor of our new home in Poland will mainly be furnished by these objects.

The second floor will feature our memories from Korea, including celadon, lacquerware and wooden chests. It will remind us of all the great, interesting times we’ve spent during our time here.

Over the past years, we were lucky to travel to many Asian countries, where we purchased cultural souvenirs. I want my home to be filled with history and our personal experiences, rather than meaningless, modern home decorations. A “home” should be a place that resonates the spirit of time.



Do you have any last words?

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the staff and readers of Korea JoongAng Daily a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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